HR Mavericks

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Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The best employers utilize the momentum of this month-long event to create a happier, healthier workplace. Discover the transformative impact and practical strategies in this article.

What Is Mental Health Awareness Month?

Mental Health Awareness Month is an annual observance held in May to raise awareness about mental health and promote understanding, support, and education regarding mental illnesses. It aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and encourage individuals to prioritize their mental well-being. Various organizations, mental health advocates, and communities join forces during this month to organize events, campaigns, and initiatives that focus on mental health, including educational programs, workshops, discussions, and fundraisers. It serves as a reminder that mental health matters and should be a priority for everyone. Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 1949 by the Mental Health America organization. Originally observed for a week, it was expanded to a month-long observance in 1951. Over the years, Mental Health Awareness Month has gained significant recognition and participation. Numerous organizations, communities, and advocates come together every May to educate the public, provide support, and encourage conversations surrounding mental health.

Why Is Mental Health Awareness Month Important?

Mental Health Awareness Month plays a vital role in fostering a more compassionate and supportive society where individuals are encouraged to prioritize their mental well-being, seek help without fear of judgment, and contribute to a positive change in the way mental health is perceived and addressed. It contributes to:
  • Reducing stigma. By promoting open conversations and education, Mental Health Awareness Month helps challenge misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding mental illnesses. For example, it can help dispel the notion that mental health problems are a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of.
  • Raising awareness. The observance brings mental health into the spotlight, increasing public awareness about the prevalence and impact of mental health conditions. It helps individuals understand that mental health is a significant aspect of overall well-being and affects anyone regardless of age, gender, or background.
  • Promoting education. Mental Health Awareness Month provides an opportunity to educate the public about various mental health disorders, their symptoms, and available treatment options. It helps individuals recognize the signs of mental health issues in themselves or others and encourages them to seek appropriate help. Education can also focus on self-care practices and strategies to maintain good mental health.
  • Encouraging support. The month-long observance encourages individuals to support one another and offer understanding and empathy to those struggling with mental health challenges. It emphasizes the importance of providing a supportive environment where people feel comfortable seeking help and sharing their experiences.
  • Advocating for change. Mental Health Awareness Month serves as a platform for advocacy and mobilization that can lead to tangible changes in society. For instance, increased awareness and advocacy efforts may contribute to the implementation of mental health programs in schools, workplaces, and communities, ensuring that mental health support is readily available to those who need it. It enables organizations, advocates, and communities to raise their voices and advocate for policy changes, improved access to mental health services, and increased funding for mental health research.
  • Highlighting resources. The observance of Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect opportunity to educate individuals in your organization of any resources, services, and support networks available for those dealing with mental health issues. It can promote helplines, counseling services, support groups, and online resources that offer information, guidance, and assistance.

10 Mental Health Awareness Month Activities for Employees

Planning engaging activities throughout the month is a great way to show your support of your employee’s mental wellbeing.

1. Workshops, Lunch & Learn Series, and Webinars

Organize workshops or webinars led by mental health professionals to educate employees about various mental health topics, coping mechanisms, and self-care practices. Offering food-incentivized lunchtime sessions tends to reap higher participation. In these educational open-floor events, employees can learn about mental health topics, listen to personal stories from guest speakers, or engage in open discussions to foster a supportive and inclusive work environment.

2. Wellness Challenges

Create wellness challenges that encourage employees to engage in activities that promote mental well-being, such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, or physical fitness. Offer incentives or rewards for participation and achievement.

3. Mental Health Resource Fair

Organize a resource fair where local mental health organizations, therapists, counselors, and support groups can set up booths to provide information, resources, and referrals to employees. This allows employees to connect directly with mental health professionals and explore various support options.

4. Meditation or Mindfulness Sessions

Arrange special meditation or mindfulness sessions specifically for Mental Health Awareness Month. Invite experienced instructors or mindfulness practitioners to lead guided sessions that help employees relax, reduce stress, and improve mental well-being.

5. Mental Health Art Exhibition

Encourage employees to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to mental health through various art forms, such as painting, photography, or poetry. Host an art exhibition within the workplace to showcase their creations and raise awareness.

6. Wellness Retreat or Day of Wellness

Organize a wellness retreat or a dedicated day of wellness activities that focus on promoting mental health. Offer activities like yoga classes, guided nature walks, stress management workshops, and opportunities for relaxation and rejuvenation.

7. Mental Health Champions Program

The great thing about this option is that its benefits extend well past Mental Health Awareness Month. Establish a Mental Health Champions Program and use May as the “open recruitment” season for interested employees. They can receive training and become advocates or ambassadors for mental health within your organization. They can help organize events, provide peer support, and serve as a resource for their colleagues.

8. Mental Health Book Club

Start a book club specifically centered around mental health-related literature. Select a book each month that explores mental health topics or personal journeys, and hold discussions where employees can share their thoughts, reflections, and insights.

9. Mindful Break Rooms

Create designated mindful break rooms where employees can take short breaks to engage in relaxation activities, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or listening to calming music. These spaces can offer a peaceful retreat within the workplace environment.

10. Invite a Coach

Inviting a PQ (Positive Intelligence) or mindfulness coach provides employees with valuable tools and techniques for enhancing mental well-being. A PQ coach specializes in developing a positive mindset and improving the mental resilience of employees. Through interactive sessions, participants learn practical strategies to manage stress, increase self-awareness, and cultivate a positive mindset. Similarly, a mindfulness coach guides employees in practicing mindfulness, which involves being fully present in the moment and cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. By inviting these coaches, employees gain practical skills to enhance their mental health, develop emotional intelligence, and improve overall well-being.

Tips for Creating a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace

Planning activities to educate and encourage employees is wonderful, but it shouldn’t stop there. By utilizing the attention and education opportunities this month presents, employers can leverage that momentum into lasting cultural changes. Here are some strategic ways to do this.

Promote Open Communication

Encourage open and honest communication about mental health by creating a safe and non-judgmental environment. Let employees know that discussing mental health concerns or seeking support is welcomed and supported.

Provide Mental Health Resources

Bolster mental health offerings such as voluntary benefits. Offer wellness programs that address various aspects of well-being, including mental health (see Mental Health Workshops above). Share information about mental health resources and support services available to employees, such as EAPs, counseling services, or helplines. Ensure that employees are aware of how to access these resources, and make it easy for them to do so.

Offer Education

Provide mental health training to managers and supervisors to equip them with the knowledge and skills to support employees who may be experiencing mental health challenges. This can include training on recognizing signs of distress and having sensitive conversations, and referring employees to appropriate resources.

Foster Work-Life Balance

Encourage work-life balance by promoting reasonable work hours, flexible schedules, and time-off policies that support employees' personal well-being. Discourage excessive overtime and encourage employees to take breaks and vacations to recharge and maintain a healthy work-life balance. One effective way to do this is to have leadership visibly model these practices.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Consider offering flexible work arrangements such as remote work options or adjustable scheduling to accommodate employees' personal needs and promote a better work-life balance. This can reduce stress and support mental well-being.

Regular Check-Ins and Support

Implement regular check-ins with employees to discuss their well-being, workload, and any potential stressors they may be facing. Providing these check-ins is a proactive approach to support their overall well-being. The frequency and format of these check-ins can vary depending on the organization's resources, employee needs, and the nature of the work environment, but many organizations find doing them semi-annually or quarterly works well. Some ideas on formats include one-on-one meetings, surveys/questionnaires, or group sessions. Emphasize confidentiality and create a safe space for employees to share their thoughts and concerns. If your organization doesn’t already, offer training and support for HR representatives and managers to effectively understand what to watch for and how to respond to employee struggles. To accompany these check-ins, provide ongoing support and guidance to give employees tools specific to the challenges they’re facing. Be sure to watch for potential requests for reasonable accommodations and provide as needed.
Kayla Farber

Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.
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Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
Employee Burnout
Employee Emotional Wellness
Employee Financial Wellbeing
Employee Mental Health
Employee Physical Health
Employee Social Wellness
Employee Spiritual Wellness
Employee Trust
Employee Wellbeing
Imposter Syndrome
Mental Health Days
Occupational Stress
Social Isolation in Remote Work
Stress Management
Wellness Committee
Wellness Incentives
Workplace Hygiene
Workplace Wellness
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